We’re at midcourt, and the ball is about to go up…it’s Monday Tip-Off! Start your week here at the NLSC with a feature that’s dedicated to opinions, commentary, and other fun stuff related to NBA Live, NBA 2K, and other basketball video games. This week, I’m tipping things off with a few thoughts on the issue of NBA Live and NBA 2K borrowing ideas from one another.
Fact: NBA Live has borrowed ideas from NBA 2K. Fact: NBA 2K has borrowed ideas from NBA Live. A lot of basketball gamers may be inclined to sneer and suggest that it isn’t the case, but there are numerous examples in both games that prove it to be true. Right stick dribbling controls, face scanning, temporary player cards in the team building modes…a lot of features and concepts have been adopted by one game after first appearing in another. There may be differences in the way the ideas are implemented, with each game putting their own spin on them, but the basic concept is similar to the original feature.
You might suggest that NBA Live and NBA 2K need to have something unique about the experiences they offer, or take different approaches to certain common features. That’s a fair comment, and something that I generally agree with. However, both games ultimately have the same goal: to realistically portray the sport of basketball, specifically the style we see in the NBA, and provide gamers with experiences that accurately replicate aspects of the league in detail. With a common goal and audience, it only makes sense that there’s some overlap in what both games are doing. To that end, basketball video games absolutely should borrow ideas from one another.
There’s an old saying: “there’s nothing new under the Sun”. That’s not to say that originality is an illusion, but there are basic ideas and templates, with a lot of variation on old themes. Most artistic works borrow from each other to some extent, or are derivative of their predecessors in some way. Genres have their own techniques and hallmarks that appeal to their target audience. Similarly, different products that serve the same purpose and compete for the same consumer base are going to have common features. A work or product may be creative and innovative in its own way, but it will still draw inspiration from its competition, and what came before it.
Video games can be classified as both art and products, and they fall into a variety of genres. It’s not uncommon to see games in the same genre adopting similar gameplay mechanics, multiplayer modes, or other features, and for good reason. You could argue that it’s derivative and devoid of originality, but at the same time, a good idea is a good idea. There’s no sense in implementing a bad gameplay mechanic or making some other kind of poor design choice, simply just to be different. There are ways to be different and original – and ideally, superior – while still adhering to the basic principles and staples of the genre, and fulfilling the needs of your audience.
As I said, NBA Live and NBA 2K are ultimately trying to achieve the same thing: be a realistic NBA licensed basketball video game, with appealing gameplay experiences that vary from mode to mode. One has obviously been more successful than the other in that aim over the past decade, but nevertheless, they still share a common goal, and compete for the same demographic. In striving for that goal, they’ve both brought some creative ideas to the table, which have had varying degrees of merit and success. It makes sense that they’d not only stick with their own ideas that work, but take inspiration from what the other game is doing as well.
Of course, that doesn’t mean that the games should become carbon copies of one another. It’s important that both development teams are selective in the ideas they borrow, and the way in which they implement them. That usually means a similar concept, but a different style or execution. Controls would be a good example. I would suggest that it’s important for all sim-oriented basketball games to have deep controls that give gamers extensive influence over what the players are doing. The configurations themselves don’t need to be identical of course, as there are different ways of implementing comprehensive controls that are intuitive and uncontrived.
Both games have benefitted from borrowing ideas from one another. I would suggest that adopting right stick dribbling has improved NBA 2K, and made its controls more accessible, at least for long-time basketball gamers who made the transition from NBA Live. Adopting the approach of scanning MyPLAYER faces through a mobile app, a feature originally introduced by NBA Live 16, has made the functionality more accessible in NBA 2K17. NBA Live has definitely taken some cues from the earlier incarnations of My Player and MyCAREER, following in 2K’s footsteps as they beat them to the punch in implementing a single player career mode.
Moving forward, I believe that both games should continue to take inspiration and borrow concepts from one another. NBA 2K has set the standard for franchise modes, with MyLEAGUE boasting features that could really enhance the depth of Dynasty mode. Arguably, it’s the smaller things that both developers should really consider: Rising Star’s option to start your career with your favourite team; separate in-game currencies for upgrades and gear; the team and league records in 2K’s modes; MyTEAM’s multiple lineups functionality; and the list goes on. Basketball games should have their own take on desirable features, as well as their own unique ideas.
Still, it’s an approach that draws scorn from a vocal contingent of basketball gamers. With a sneer, a scoff, and a derisive LOL, they’ll criticise one game or the other for “stealing” an idea, function, or feature. I find that attitude puzzling. Once again, a good idea is a good idea, and if it caters to the needs of basketball gamers, why shouldn’t both companies try to implement it in some way? Does it matter who implemented it first? Whenever one of the basketball games has implemented a feature from the other that I like, my first thought hasn’t been “Ugh, how unoriginal.” It’s been “Great, I that’s a good feature. I’m glad they’ve done their take on it!”
It all comes down to overzealous fanaticism for the chosen brand. It makes sense given that the games are competing for the same userbase, and a userbase primarily made up of enthusiastic basketball fans besides. It’s a common sports fan mentality: the success of your team has to come at the expense of someone else’s, with bragging rights up for grabs. Smart business practices and logical design choices mean nothing compared to who did it first or who did it best…”best” almost always meaning the method you personally prefer, by the brand of your choice. Like the arguments over the best camera angle, it’s how we justify our preferences, and investment.
I’ll say it again. If there’s a good idea for a basketball video game, then both EA Sports and Visual Concepts should consider it. Sometimes they’ll debut a similar feature at the same time – like 2K Pro-Am and LIVE Pro-Am – but inevitably, one of the games will be beaten to the punch on an idea. So be it! That just means they have a heard start on catering to a certain need or desire. NBA Live and NBA 2K will always have their own style and approach, which they absolutely should. There will always be similarities and borrowed ideas though, and that’s fine too. After all, you don’t make a car with square wheels, just because everyone else’s wheels are round.